Art This Way program creating visual impact in downtown Fort Wayne

Bryan Ballinger's finished "The Blue Birds" now watch people walking and driving in the alley along Harrison Street, between Washington Boulevard and Wayne Street. The mural, which is part of this year's Art This Way Allen Activation Project murals, is on the north side of the building at 927 S. Harrison St. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Bryan Ballinger started his "The Blue Birds" mural by coating the building's wall with white primer paint. The mural is one of three painted downtown this summer as part of Art This Way's Alley Activation Project. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Bryan Ballinger, left, and Tori March work on painting background colors for Ballinger's "The Blue Birds" mural on the north side of the building at 927 Harrison St. The mural is one of this year's Art This Way Alley Activation Project artworks. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Bryan Ballinger paints in some of the background colors around sketches of birds' heads on "The Blue Birds" mural on the north side of the building at 927 S, Harrison St. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Artists chosen to paint murals for the Art This Way Alley Activation Project must use high-quality mural paint, which is supposed to last 15-20 years. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Bryan Ballinger works on adding details to his "The Blue Birds" mural on the north side of a building at 927 S. Harrison St. The mural is one of three downtown murals commissioned so far this summer through the Art This Way Alley Activation Project. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural is on the alley on the west side of the Midtowne Crossing housing and retail building at Wayne and Calhoun streets. The mural is one of three painted this summer as part of the Art This Way Alley Activation Project. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural on the back side of a building at 128 W. Wayne St. is one of three painted this summer as part of the Art This Way Alley Activation Project. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This artwork in the alley on the south side of Wayne Street, between Harrison and Calhoun streets, was the "test" piece to see if people enjoyed art livening up downtown alleys. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural is on the south side of the building in the 3500 block of North Anthony Boulevard housing the Firefly Coffee House, Health Food Shoppe and Studio Seva yoga studio. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural is on the back side of the building in the 3500 block of North Anthony Boulevard housing the Firefly Coffee House, Health Food Shoppe and Studio Seva yoga studio. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural is on the north side of the building in the 3500 block of North Anthony Boulevard housing the Firefly Coffee House, Health Food Shoppe and Studio Seva yoga studio. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural of Fort Wayne scenes stretches across south wall of the buildings containing Hyde Brothers, Booksellers on Wells Street. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
These mural paintings are on the south side of 816 Pint & Slice at 816 S. Calhoun St. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This mural is on the south wall of the Brass Rail bar on Broadway. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
This photo shows a section of the long mural painted on the wall of the train elevation in the 500 block of Columbia Avenue, across from Three Rivers Apartments. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
The outside of Wunderkammer Co. at 3402 Fairfield Ave. is covered with murals. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

In the span of a week, what had been a drab wall of concrete blocks and old red-brown bricks turned white and then blue. Black lines appeared, and then the heads of birds in tall grass.

Artist Bryan Ballinger, a professor of digital media arts at Huntington University in Huntington, and a former student, Tori March, who now lives in Indianapolis, endured scorching heat and Three Rivers Festival traffic as they painted “The Blue Birds” mural in the alley on the north wall of Ambassador Enterprises’ historic building at 927 S. Harrison St.

Some days, they worked into the evening so they could project an image of the mural onto the wall and outline the locations of birds, grass blades and other details.

Ballinger, whose birds now greet the pedestrians and drivers who pass frequently down the alley, was one of three artists who painted murals in downtown alleys this spring and summer as part of the Art This Way Alley Activation Project.

The two other new murals are:

• Midtowne Crossing Owners Association Mural, behind 117 W. Wayne St., by artist Matthew Plett

• SOCA (University of Saint Francis School of Creative Arts) Mural, behind 128 W. Wayne St., by artist and SOCA educator Tim Parsley and SOCA students

The Art This Way program hopes to commission a fourth mural this year, but the proposal hasn’t been released yet, said Alexandra Hall, a co-founder of the Art This Way program and its manager.

THE IDEA

The Downtown Improvement District (DID) started the idea of installing artwork in downtown alleys, Hall said.

“Public art enhances public grounds in a way that goes beyond brick and mortar,” Bill Brown, DID president, said via email. “Public art gives public realm a soul.”

To gauge the public’s response to the idea of alley art, Hall and local artist Alex Mendez created a guitar-shaped “test” art piece that was installed in 2016 in the alley on the south side of Wayne Street between Harrison and Calhoun streets.

Then Hall and local artists Terry Ratliff and Theoplis Smith collaborated on a mural that was installed in February 2017 on the east side of the former Thirsty Camel building, 120 W. Washington Blvd.

Hall said she and Smith developed the name Art This Way, but she realized there weren’t clear plans for adding more artwork to downtown alleys. So she began looking for grants and other funding, consulting with the DID, and working to get more mural projects scheduled.

In partnership with the DID, the Art This Way Alley Activation Project has included contacting downtown building owners, some of whom Hall learned were interested in having murals painted on their building but didn’t know how to make that happen.

ACTIVATING ALLEYS

While the DID focuses on the 99 city blocks in downtown Fort Wayne, Art This Way’s Alley Activation Project so far has concentrated on a two-block area including Washington Boulevard and Wayne and Berry streets between Harrison and Calhoun streets.

“These alleys get walked quite frequently, but they are not always that pretty,” Hall said.

The Art This Way program tries to ensure artists’ creativity remains free and that the downtown art lasts, she said.

Art This Way identifies building owners who want a mural on their building. Artists submit mural art proposals for an alley wall on a selected building. Art This Way’s committee of artists — not the building owner — then chooses which murals will be funded and painted, Hall said.

The program has selected a very diverse group of artists to work on the murals, which the DID’s Brown said he appreciates.

The selected artists also must use high-quality mural paint, which should last 15 to 20 years, Hall said. Building owners are responsible for maintaining a mural on their building once the artist finishes the work.

Money to fund Art This Way art projects comes from donations and from Art This Way’s annual Art Crawl fundraiser, which this year takes place 5-9 p.m. Sept. 21. Tickets are $20 and $25 (you must be age 21 or older) and are available now on the Art This Way webpage.

OTHER MURALS

In the past few years, murals also have been installed elsewhere in Fort Wayne through other funding sources. Those murals, many of which were designed and painted by Jerrod Tobias, include:

• A lengthy mural extends along the north side of the elevated train tracks just west of where Lake and Columbia avenues cross the Maumee River to connect to Main Street.

• Murals now cover three sides of the building in the 3500 block of North Anthony Boulevard that houses the Firefly Coffee House, Health Food Shoppe and Studio Seva yoga studio.

• A large mural featuring Native-American imagery covers the south wall of the Brass Rail bar, 1121 Broadway.

PUBLIC ART IMPACT

Adding art to downtown alley walls helps create a sense of place and also attracts people downtown, Hall said. If they come down to see the murals, they also may stop at a local bar or restaurant.

The art also sparks conversations between people and shows young people that Fort Wayne has a creative community, Hall said.

“This is art you can touch and be around in big groups,” she said. “A lot of people won’t go to a gallery.”

Art This Way hopes to fund four public art projects in 2019, Hall said. Those could include murals, sculptures or art pieces that use lighting or other means to make the artwork more interactive or interesting during both day and night, she said.

ARTY EVENT

WHAT: Art This Way will hold its annual Art Crawl fundraiser, which includes an opportunity to visit five downtown stops that will feature live music, an artist working live, a gallery show, cash bar and free appetizers. Proceeds go to Art This Way to help fund local public art projects. You must be age 21 or older to attend.

WHEN: 5-9 p.m. Sept. 21

WHERE: Stops are Aptera Software, Caliente Cuban Cafe, The City Exchange Shops, The Atrium (Start Fort Wayne) and PNC Bank lobby.

COST: $20 each for the first 100 tickets sold through Aug. 31, and $25 per person after that date. To order tickets, click here.

The artists: Artists scheduled to be working at Art Crawl stops are Sarah Thompson, Theoplis Smith, Jeremy Stroup and more.

The music: Music artists scheduled to perform at Art Crawl stops are Unlikely Alibi, Alicia Pyle, The Bloody Tambourine and Musical Mafia, The Todd Harrold Band, String Shift, Jess Flame Thrower, Three Cities Band and more.

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